Las Vegas had to get one yard. Three measly feet. Against a 3-9 side reeling from one of the most stomach-turning Super Bowl hangovers we've ever seen. The Raiders had to put the ball in Josh Jacobs' gut and have him fall forward a bit further than he'd stumbled on an eight-yard second down run. That would have taken him to the two-minute warning and allowed the sacred victory formation to get its moment on-stage. It shouldn't have come to this after building a 16-3 lead against Baker Mayfield, a quarterback essentially beckoned across the country to cover someone else's shift.
Every neutral observer hoped against hope that they wouldn't gain positive yardage. That Mayfield would get an opportunity, however improbable, to post the NFL's second consecutive late 13-point comeback in primetime. Because that's sports.
There is nothing better than rooting for the drama to get a stay of execution. To root for more sports. For something else unpredictable to happen. We share a common Jokerfied interest in the chaos continuing. It's as though we're on the dance floor, imploring a wedding DJ to play one more song. And then another one after that. The weirdest one they have on that sticker-covered laptop. Maybe even one we haven't heard before.
Even after Jacobs was stuffed, we knew the odds were long. They became nearly impossible when a Raiders punt tightroped the sideline and came to a rest at the 2-yard line. Mayfield, whose career was on life support mere hours earlier, would have to pull a John Elway with no timeouts and, crucially, only a tertiary understanding of the Rams playbook he'd studied like a frantic college freshman unprepared for exams.
Then it happened. A 98-yard drive made possible by great throws, defensive penalties, and inexplicable coaching decisions by Josh McDaniels. When the shock subsided the Rams had won and Mayfield was headbutting teammates, the proud owner of another magical moment that was never guaranteed.
What we saw was beautiful. Barely precedented. An improv show where all involved said yes and. Call me a prisoner of the moment but it felt like everything we cherish about sports.
There is no script. Every action has a counteraction. Other stars have to align to allow one to shine impossibly bright and blind. Viewers synthesize the changing landscape at breakneck speed, doing mental calculus, yearning for something they've never seen before while knowing deep down that the odds are stacked against them.
Last night was a reminder of the complexity of this dance. A million little moments that crescendo to the final one. If Jacobs had plunged ahead for a game-ending first down, everyone would have gone to bed and forgotten about a random Thursday night affair between two underacheiving teams.
Instead, Mayfield authored another moment at a time when reasonable people were left to believe he didn't have any left in the tank. It was, for lack of a better word, awesome.
Sports will let you down more often than not. The perfect moment will fail to materialize for the most boring, mundane reasons. Like converting a third and short. Or defending an out pattern. Or simply not committing an idiotic personal foul as time ticks down. But every so often they deliver a winning lottery ticket.
Last night was one of those perfect storms. Made possible by imperfection.